JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — A year ago, Gov. Mike Parson and other state leaders were bracing for the worst, acknowledging that the coronavirus pandemic could devastate Missouri’s finances.
Fewer people working would mean a reduction in income tax revenue. Business closures would affect sales taxes. Lockdowns would keep people from driving, meaning less in motor fuel taxes.
“Is it going to affect the state? Yes,” Parson, a Republican, said in March 2020.
The pandemic has really hurt the state economy and cost thousands of people their lives or livelihoods, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday that the impact has been so much less damaging than expected that Parson freed up the last chunk of money he had cut from the budget in preparation for tough financial times. Unemployment is at 5.7 percent, which is far better than many imagined, and the state has been helped by $3.8 million in federal stimulus money.
Parson has drawn criticism from some for leaving counties and local governments to decide whether to impose shutdown orders or mask requirements. He, however, argues that his “balanced approach” worked.
“Thanks to our balanced approach to COVID-19, Missouri is in a much better position than what was originally projected,” Parson said. “Our economy continues to come back strong, and we’re pleased to be able to release the remainder of these funds today.”
Even Republican leaders in the Legislature said they didn’t expect the state’s fiscal condition to be quite so good a year after the pandemic began.
“I think we’re all surprised,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.
The condition of the budget has Parson and lawmakers weighing new spending that could include $68 million to upgrade facilities at 22 state parks.
Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, a Republican, favors spending on infrastructure, including roads and bridges. “We could rebuild I-70,” he said at a news conference.
Democrats say additional money should be put toward improving COVID-19 testing, more vaccination events and other programs that will help the state get through the pandemic.
The state reported on Friday 508 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and four new deaths from the disease. That pushed its pandemic totals to 482,732 confirmed cases and 8,307 deaths. The city of St. Louis reported 20,173 confirmed cases, 1,734 suspected cases and 438 deaths.
MetroSTL.com staff contributed to this report.